More than a hundred people turned out on Sunday in Jefferson for a birthday party that the guest of honor couldn't attend.
Alexis Schoeffling would have been 18 years old today, but instead she died last September from a heroin overdose. Her mother, Melanie Crandall, invited her entire community to raise money for the Jefferson County Drug Task Force's Education Fund as well as to raise awareness about the impacts of heroin use.
"I wanted to celebrate her life and bring awareness to the town, that it can happen to anybody," Crandall said. "What started out as a little family get together to release balloons for her birthday has turned into a pretty big movement in this small, little town."
Crandall and the crowd sang "Happy Birthday" to the young woman who loved pink, leopard prints, and her collection of Air Jordan shoes. As the hundreds of balloons soared into the air over the Rock River, Melanie said quietly of Alexis, "I hope she sees them."
Cynthia Rogalski, 23, goes on trial next month in Jefferson County Circuit Court in relation to providing Alexis with the heroin that led to her death. Rogalski is charged with first-degree reckless homicide and intentionally contributing to the delinquency of a child resulting in death. If convicted of both charges, she could face more than 65 years in prison.
When the trial is concluded, Crandall hopes to begin speaking to parents around her community about the negative impact of heroin.
"If we as parents don't know what to look for, we can't stop it," she said as she looked at the crowd gathered for Alexis's birthday party. "Her life was short, but she touched a lot of people. She's still touching people."
Among those attending were Jace and Rebecca Smith, family friends who had known Alexis since she was little.
"I think this is how Alexis would have wanted it," Rebecca said. "She liked to laugh and smile and she liked balloons… This has Alexis written all over it."
For more information on the Jefferson County Drug Task Force, click here.